André Levinson’s opinion on the influence of African art in Parisian society is generally favorable, but chock-full of patronizing back-handed compliments.
Josephine Baker’s dancing is repeatedly referred to as primitive. In fact, in Levinson’s writing on “Negro music” and “Negro dancing,” anything which is not customary by Western standards is considered inferior. According to Levinson, the “savage or folk dancer is essentially an instrument of percussion,” because folk dancing “is based upon a direct and audible expression of the rhythm” (page 71). Not only is this statement a huge generalization of multiple distinct cultures (Levinson lumps together Russian, Scottish, and Spanish dances, to name a few), but it also implies that the otherness of the primarily rhythmic dances is somehow inferior to the more developed Western choreography, ballet. On page 73, after praising “the undeniable rhythmic superiority of these Negro dancers,” Levinson qualifies his admiration: “We should not, however, jump to the conclusion that because of this extraordinary rhythmic gift alone the Negro dancer or musician should be taken seriously as an artist. Rhythm is not, after all, an art in itself.” Because, by Western standards, rhythm is subservient to melody and harmony, any style that flips this hierarchy is undeveloped.
In “Le Jazz,” Matthew F. Jordan mentions Levinson “[questioning] the newness of La revue nègre” (Jordan, 108). Levinson thought its portrayal of “le nègre” was too cliché. He desired a more authentic portrayal that was not catered to Parisian audiences. In a sense, this demonstrates a true love and celebration of African American artists, but in reality, it demonstrates the culture appropriation taking place, as his idea of and “authentic” portrayal of “le nègre” was not based on anything truly authentic.